Monday, May 16, 2011

What happens in the original
Election ending

All over the Internets this afternoon: news of the discovery of an unlabeled flea-market videotape with the original ending of Alexander Payne’s 1999 film Election. YouTube has already yanked the clip in response to a copyright claim from Paramount Pictures. What happens, briefly:

We see Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) sitting in an office. “Hey, Professor, someone to see you,” someone calls to him. We then see that Mr. M. is working as a car salesman, and he’s been summoned to the showroom floor because a customer has asked for him. That customer is of course Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). She needs a car for college. Where did she get in? Everywhere she applied, but she’s going to Northwestern. Good school, Mr. M. says.

We then see them in the lot. Does Tracy want something practical or something sporty? Sporty. Mr. M. talks up the advantages of the Ford Escort, which is sporty and practical and in Tracy’s price range. It’s also a very safe car. Ford calls it the “world car.” He begins to describe an attractive options package. He asks why Tracy’s doing this, if she’s trying to humiliate him. No, Tracy says. But she asks if there’s someplace they can talk.

They sit in the car, and Tracy says that there’s something she has to ask: was Mr. M. really going to let Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) be president all year and just watch her suffer? Mr. M. explains that he had some personal problems at the time and took them out on Tracy. “Can I take that as an apology?” she asks. Yes.

Then they’re on a test drive. “I have an idea,” Tracy says, and she turns down a street and parks outside what we now figure out is her house. She runs inside. The house is on a rundown street with a row of grain silos at its end. Some of the garbage from the cans in front of Tracy’s house has spilled into the street. Mr. M. steps from the car and picks up the garbage. It’s pretty clear that he’s thinking through the contrast between perky, proper Tracy and her dilapidated surroundings. Tracy returns with a yearbook. “First one I’m not in,” Mr. M. says, or words to that effect. Tracy asks him to sign it. She confesses that she’s scared that she’s not ready for college. Mr. M. assures her that she’ll be fine. Alas, the quality of the YouTube clip is (or was) so poor that what he then writes in the yearbook is unreadable.

Election is my favorite high-school film. If anyone can add to this account or make a correction, please do. I’m working from memory — one viewing before the clip disappeared.


October 7, 2014: The ending has returned to YouTube.

[The film's original ending appears to follow, at least loosely, the ending of Tom Perrotta’s novel. The Daily What has more on why the ending changed.]

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